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Ban-Wangka, an old Mon Buddhist village in Sangkhlaburi

By Lita Davidson and Enn Pine, Kaowao News,
September 15, 2010

Wat Wiweakaram is located in Ban-Wangka, a little Mon village located in Sangkhlaburi, Kanchanaburi, Thailand (also called Wat Mon).  It was built here twenty-six years ago by the Mon after moving from the original location of the old Wangka Mon Village and Three Pagodas Pass which became flooded with the building of the Khao Laem Dam. The temple and the Mon village are well-known among the Thai community in the Three Pagodas Pass area and central Thailand due mainly to the leadership of a Mon Buddhist monk, Reverend Luang Pho Uttama, who passed away in 2006. Reverend Uttama had escaped Burmese persecution after the Second World War in 1949 and established Ban-Wangka.

Picture of Reverend Luang Pho Uttama in Wat Wiwaekaram, Ban-Wangka Mon village, Sangkhlaburi, Thailand
Picture of Reverend Luang Pho Uttama in Wat Wiwaekaram, Ban-Wangka Mon village, Sangkhlaburi, Thailand

Reverend Uttama was held in high regard for his compassion in helping the Mon and the other ethnic refugees fleeing Burmese repression. In the 1980s when the town was submerged after the building of the dam, Reverend Uttama had to relocate the village to higher ground. Ban-Wangka can now be reached from Sangkhlaburi on the 400 metre Mon wooden bridge, Saphan Mon, which was built by the Mon and is the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. Sangkhlaburi and Wangka are now fast becoming a popular tourist destination with more resorts being built near the edge of Songkalia Lake.

The 69 Mon monks living in the temple practice Theravada Buddhism, a branch of Buddhism long associated with the Mon people. Their cultural history can be traced back to the establishment of Buddhism in the region over 2,000 years ago. The Three Pagodas Pass area has long been recognized as an ancient trade route and was used by the Mon to escape Burmese persecution on a number of occasions throughout recorded history to the present day. Scientific evidence has shown that they had Buddhist communities in Thailand that date back to the Dvaravati period in the 6th century AD associated with an early port, Nakhon Pathom, among other locations in the Kingdom of Thailand where early Mon inscriptions have been found. They have crossed back and forth through this border area for centuries and had aided the Thai in expelling the Burmese from Thailand in the 18th century during the early Rattanakosin Period. For their service to the Kingdom of Thailand, King Rama 1, renovated Wat Klang Na in Bangkok for the Mon monks and renamed it Wat Chanasongkran (which is today located near Khao San Road), which means “Victory of War.” 

All Mon monks learn the Buddha’s language, Pali, from which the Mon language is closely connected. Parakchai, 45, from Mon State, southern Burma, has lived in Wat Wiweakaram for 21 years and like most Mon monks who have come to Thailand, enjoy their Buddhist studies and chant Buddhist sermons in the Mon language. “I enjoy living in Thailand, the monk’s life is peaceful,” he said to this reporter. In his free time he teaches reading and writing in the Mon language to Mon children who give back by doing various chores around the temple compound.

Gosaka, 24, from Mon State has lived in Wangka for 3 years and is happy with his life in Thailand, smiling happily, he says. “I really enjoy learning English in my free time.” Speaking English clearly, he is eager to talk about Buddhism saying he is not interested in politics and adds that he likes the temples in Sri Lanka the most, a Buddhist nation which the Mon have had relations with for over a thousand years.  Another monk, Pala Wonta, 23, says he likes the Buddha’s teaching and explains the five major principles behind it: not to kill; forbear stealing and lying; and practice a pure mind. The precepts are also related to abstaining from alcohol and sexual misconduct in order to keep your mind free from attachments.

The most important celebrations in the Mon temples occur during the Songkrant Buddhist New Year in the first week of April held over the 3 days of the full moon. Another popular celebration, Vesak, takes place on the first full moon in May celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. At this time worshippers come together to read and chant Buddhist sayings, and practice meditation and light candles. 

Enn Pine interviewing Mon novice mon, Pala Wonta, at Wat Wiweakaram, Ban-Wangka Mon Village.
Enn Pine interviewing Mon novice mon, Pala Wonta, at Wat Wiweakaram, Ban-Wangka Mon Village.
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